A strange atmosphere Monday befitted the odd situation that is the Southern Division race in the South Atlantic League.
With an "Education Day" announced attendance of 7,912 for a 10:08 a.m. start, Whitaker Bank was nearly packed for the first of two seven-inning games between the Lexington Legends and Asheville Tourists.
The Legends won the opener 2-1, leaving both teams with 18-19 records.
Because children were due at school, fewer than 100 fans were on hand to see Asheville's 1-0 win in the second game — moving the Tourists to .500 and into first place.
That is correct.
Three games past the season's quarter mark — also past halfway to the first-half title chase — the division leader has lost as many games as it has won. The Legends, two games under .500, are one game out of first place.
"We take it one game at a time. We're still a long ways away," Legends Manager Rodney Linares said. "We've got to get back on track. ... When the month started, it looked like we were going to run away with it. And then, for a while, like we couldn't get any wins."
The Legends got one of each Monday, striking out 22 Tourists in the process.
For the four-game series, Lexington pitchers fanned 55.
"They're an aggressive team. They swing the bats. That's one of the reasons they lead the league in hitting," Linares said of an Asheville team that dropped four points to a .295 average. "But we also pitched them pretty well. We were struggling for the last 10 days on our pitching, and they did a great job today."
Juan Minaya (1-3) and Jorge De Leon combined on a three-hitter in the opener. Minaya struck out 10.
David Martinez and Jason Chowning (1-1) worked the second game, Martinez striking out four and Chowning punching out eight.
"Obviously, we saw some pretty good pitching during the series, and there were a little bit too-big swings with two strikes for us," Tourists Manager Joe Mikulik said. "I think we were trying to do a little bit too much, putting too much pressure on ourselves, especially in a low-scoring game."
Asheville's Edwar Cabrera struck out nine in six innings to salvage a split.
The only run came in the seventh.
Avery Barnes led off with a single, took second on a wild pitch and scored on Joey Wong's one-out single.
"Cabrera, he threw OK. His command wasn't as good as it has been in the past," said Mikulik, who saw his left-hander yield six hits and six walks. "But if you can hold them to a zero and get a big hit from a guy like Wong ... it's good to see."
The Legends loaded the bases with two outs in the fourth inning and again in the sixth. Cabrera escaped each time by striking out Jhonny Medrano.
In the opener, Adam Bailey scored to give Lexington a 1-0 lead in the first.
Bailey, in right field, also came up with the key defensive play in the final inning by running down Russell Wilson's fly to the wall in right-center and turning a double play. Pinch-runner Brett Tanos, running from first with the pitch, was at home plate when he was called out.
"I was playing a little to (my) right because the guy hasn't been hitting it too well all day," Bailey said. "Then he got a hold of that one. I just kind of ran. I listened to my center fielder, Daniel Adamson, and he told me I've got room, so I just decided to go for it."
In the first, Bailey reached on a two-out double after Tourists catcher Bryce Massanari and first baseman Mark Tracy let a pop foul drop between them. Bailey took third on a wild pitch and scored on Tyler Burnett's single.
Asheville tied in the third as Rafael Ortega singled, stole second, then advanced on an error and a wild pitch.
The Legends' winning run came in the fifth.
Adamson reached on a two-base error. Roberto Pena bunted him to third, and Emilio King laced an RBI single.